David J. Thompson

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The Best Strudel I Ever Tasted

My mom kept her cancer secret, only told me
over the phone for months about some back pain,
that’s all. Inoperable was the only word I heard
when the doctor called  from Palm Beach General,
said I’d better hurry. I flew down in the morning,
rented a car, picked up some flowers, drove straight
to the hospital. I sat with her through the afternoon,
tried to help her eat some lunch, watched her drift in
and out of sleep. I went down and got some coffee,
when I got back she was awake. She gestured for me
to sit close, and asked softly, What do you know
about your grandparents? Just what you told me, I answered.
Grandma made the best apple strudel in the world,
but died when I was two or three and your father was killed
in the war even before you were born.  Yes, that’s true she said.
Get me my bag. She took out a photo, handed it to me.
I took off my glasses to get a close look, then snapped
my head back. It was a naked young woman and an old man
with an unmistakable moustache in a pair of white boxers
and wifebeater undershirt  Sweet Jesus, mom. Is that Hitler?
She nodded slowly. With your grandmother.

She was the Nazis’ best test pilot, flew their early jets,
knew everything about them, mom said, her hands clenched
to the edge of the sheets.  They invited her to the bunker
for the big orgy they filmed a few days before the Russians arrived.
Somehow she flew the last plane flew out of Berlin, got it safely
to Sweden, then England where she bargained what she knew
to our Air Force for asylum in the U.S., and the farm near Harrisburg
where she raised me. I can’t tell you for sure who your grandfather was,
but I suspect the worst. I was born nine months after Hitler died,
almost to the day. Why didn’t you tell me all this before? I asked,
but by now her eyes were closed.  I repeated my question
a little more loudly and the last thing I ever heard my mom say was,
She made the best strudel ever. I wish you could have tasted it.
I could never get mine it quite like hers. So I sat back in the chair, stared
at her sleeping for a long time, wondering if I’d ever enjoy eating desserts
or looking at porn again.


David J. Thompson is a former prep school teacher and coach who has been traveling since October 2013. His latest photo/poetry chapbook, And Thou Upon Earth, is available from Nerve Cowboy in Austin, Texas. Please visit his photo website at ninemilephoto.com.